Holland America Cruises Informative - What a Difference a Year Makes
What a Difference a Year Makes
The October 25, 2009 seven day cruise on the Westerdam to the Dutch Antilles came one year after a very enjoyable cruise from Rome to Ft. Lauderdale on the Noordam.
Embarkation was a breeze, just like it always is on Holland America.
We had a deluxe high end suite that comes with a number of amenities including free laundry service, access to the Neptune Lounge and breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill.
We were not on the ship very long to see that things had changed during a year of recession and slashed fares on HAL. A week of talking to crew members revealed that about 25% of the service crew had been cut. The reduction in personnel quickly became obvious.
THE CABIN: My cabin steward, while not volunteering the information, did not lie and answered questions honestly. In the last year he had seen his duties increase from 9 suites to 21 suites. I have to admit that while the room was clean, such things as the comp bottle of champagne in your suite was not on ice and no fruit in the room until the second day. Certainly not horrors of travel, but below past experiences of HAL!
However, the fact there was a burned out light bulb for the entire week and a broken shower hose were things we had never experienced in the past on a HAL ship.
The advertised CD player in the suite did not work. After a complaint was made, a day later someone came and removed the damaged CD player, but never replaced it. Again not something I would have expected on HAL.
THE PUBLIC AREAS:
Times have change aboard this HAL ship. One hand sanitizer on deck 3 was empty for the entire cruise. I walked past it several times a day and made it a habit to check. If they are not going to fill it or fix it they needed to remove it.
Also there was a wall light in the Queens Lounge that was burned out for the entire cruise. So much for attention to detail!
INSULTING TO THE PASSENGERS: The thing that bothered me the most during this cruise was the fact that Holland America lied to me every day! Two years ago the library on the Westerdam was moved from Deck 3 to Deck 10 next to the Crows Nest. Every directory of the ship at every elevator showed the library being on Deck 3. Every printed card on the ship showed the library was on deck three. Simple but attractive tape could have been added to the directories giving the correct location, but it was not considered. Instead we were told the signs would be changed later in 2010 (3 years after the library was moved) when the ship was updated. All the way to the final day of the cruise, people were complaining they could not find the library and asking where it was.
On the HAL website video tour of the Westerdam it also shows the library at the old location. Actually it appears as it the library was replaced on deck three with shops. Much like the food it also appeared to have shrunk.
On a positive note they had a full time librarian manning the desk, instead of a dancer being forced to play a role as a librarian. John, the librarian, was very helpful.
FOOD SERVICE: The service levels and food quality in the LIDO had taken quite a tumble in the last year.
LIDO: The much talked about removal of trays while you walked through the food service line continued. At a cocktail party held by crew staff for deluxe suite passengers, the head chef openly admitted the purpose behind the elimination of the trays was to cut food costs. When asked what percentage of food cost savings had been seen, he could not provide an answer. Also missing were the food service staff urging you to use hand sanitizers upon entering the Lido and the staff handing out trays and silverware.
The one problem that became evident with the removal of trays was one day during lunch when I was handed a painfully hot plate with no where to place if without stopping the service line.
Next was the loss of quality in the food. Several meat items in the Lido were tough. Omelets were under cooked and with the cheese not being melted. Perhaps the worst insult was that the advertised fresh squeezed orange juice was not exactly fresh squeezed…at least for the peons at the Lido. When asked one staff member told me that the oranges did not taste right so they mixed fresh squeezed OJ with concentrate. Another staff said they were short on oranges so they decided to mix fresh OJ with concentrate.
This caused my wife and me to breakfast only at the Pinnacle Grill. Guess what? The omelets were delicious and the OJ was 100% fresh squeezed. HAL was known for the fresh OJ and I don’t think they are doing themselves any favors by squeezing nickels when comes to squeezing oranges.
VISTA DINING ROOM: There appeared to be a few less waiters, but the service was pretty good. An assistant waiter remembered my wife ordered a cup of cappuccino on our first night after the meal and promptly delivered a cup every evening thereafter.
Food portions clearly had shrunk…possibly not a bad thing. However, there was more than one incident of false advertising. One night almost everyone at the table ordered the chocolate crème brulee, only to have some chocolate pudding with sugar sprinkled on top of it delivered. The head waiter refused to admit what was in front of us was not crème brulee. Several days later a staff member admitted they had run out of crème brulee and decided to improvise. That is fine, but don’t lie to the customers.
One night the menu listed seafood pasta containing “plump” scallops. My wife ordered it and when it was delivered not only did it not contain any plump scallops, it didn’t have any scallops at all. I asked the head waiter to give me back the menu, which he reluctantly did and I read the description of the entrée and then asked, where were the scallops? (Not unlike Clara Peller asking, “Where is the beef?”) The head waiter saw 25% of his tip vanish for lying. Although I did feel for the guy, he was older and was stuck as a busboy on the Lido deck for breakfast and lunch.
The steaks were pretty good and I continue to be amazed how 90-percent or more the steaks on HAL ships arrive to order.
PINNACLE GRILL: The first thing I noticed was during our two dinners at the Pinnacle that the wait staff had too many tables, again more evidence of staff reductions.
I was surprised to find that Clam Chowder was no longer on the menu. This had become a signature item in the Pinnacle. A number of staff members actually mentioned that they missed the chowder themselves. In the place of the Chowder was a lobster bisque that tasted as if it was from a can and was exactly the same as the lobster bisque served in the Vista…why pay $20 more for the same thing they are giving you for free?
Our first night at the Pinnacle at the table next to ours diners waited and waited for their waiter to pass by to inform him he had delivered their soup, but there were no spoons let alone soup spoons on the table. 10 minutes later it happened to us.
The second night at the Pinnacle the food was not quite as good, but the bill was the same. The crème brulee at the Pinnacle was the real deal. We found the chocolate and vanilla soufflés were outstanding. However, on our first visit no waiter mentioned that soufflés were available. We decided not to order them due to the 20-minute wait. On our second visit we ordered them at the same time we ordered our entrée, however we ended up waiting 20 minutes anyway. It was worth the wait.
One disconcerting moment was when the chef came out to talk to the customers. A couple at a nearby table asked what the star on his shirt was far and he replied it was for killing Romanians. He was busting on a nearby Romanian waiter, but the response was unexpected and somewhat unpleasant after a nice meal.
During breakfast the omelets at the Pinnacle were as good as you could get anywhere.
The wait staff was pleasant and engaging during breakfast and over stretched during dinner.
ENTERTAINMENT: Jason and his cruise staff had also been cut, meaning fewer activities. But the staff was always up beat and did a nice job putting on activities.
The house band was unusual as it had a number of American musicians. The Neptunes, consisted of a 60-plus (I am being generous here) pianist-singer with limited range plus two kids on bass and drums. The kids appeared to be serving a 5-hour sentence each evening as the trio did dance numbers using mostly American standards, but also including POP stuff like Sweet Caroline that they should have left to the piano bar entertainer.
PIANO BAR: The piano bar can be my favorite stop on a cruise or the place to avoid. Last year Jimmy Maddox in the piano bar on the Noordam was actually one of the highlights. Laughs and fun every night for 14 nights! Sally on past HAL cruises was also very entertaining. Avoid JP at all costs.
On the Westerdam, Kimberly Krohne was on her very first cruise as a musician. She was a rocker from the 70s, with a Janis Joplin voice but a sweet smile and twinkles in each eye. She had seven years experience playing for fat American tourists at Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans. She was good and when she could not hit a high note, she made up for it with a smile. She also did knock out versions of Scotch and Soda and Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered, but would get the crowd going with hand clapping POP favorites.
STRINGS: HAL has not cut out the string quartet that does give the ship a certain Old World class regardless of how many New Yorkers in tank tops and flip flops are on board.
IN THE MAIN ROOM: Overall this cruise got a C- for the stage shows with one exception. Julie Barr, a R-rated comic who has been on a number of cable shows, did just one 11pm set and was very good. She is apparently a regular on HAL ships, but it is the first time I have caught her over six years I have cruised with HAL.
ON SHORE: My wife and I avoided the ship excursions and found our own on shore. Actually we walked well beyond the pier and found a 60-year-old native Aburan cabdriver, who gave us a great tour of the island. If you asked him a question if there were any unique pastries on Aruba he would pull into a bakery and we would try some. My wife and I have always had good luck finding guides and transportation on shore that were not connected with the ships…usually cheaper and always more interesting.
If you are a baseball fan and remember former major league outfielder Eugene Kingsale, his brother drives Cab 83 on Aruba.
STAFF: One other thing that I noticed was that if seemed as if the English comprehension by a number of service staff people was off from other cruises. It was hard to know if a front desk staff didn’t understand you or lied when they said a letter you asked to be delivered to a fellow passenger would be immediately taken to their room, when in fact it showed up the next day. But as usual the staff always had a smile on their face and seemed to want to help you.
DISEMBARKATION: Well if you have a deluxe suite getting off the ship is sweet. We were allowed to put our luggage out at 6am instead of before midnight. Very easy getting off and saying hi to a Customs Officer!
We highly recommend that you NEVER buy a transfer to the ft. Lauderdale airport from the cruise line. Just walk outside and get into a cab. The price is almost the same and you are not crammed onto a bus for a short trip to the airport.
Actually perhaps one of the highlights of the trip was on our way home on a Southwest Airlines flight with a flight attendant making hilarious PA announcements.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: If we did not have a Deluxe Suite we would have had a disappointing trip. The reductions in staff and service were noticed throughout the ship, but were tolerated while getting an extra level of service even if it had been reduced. However, that said, most of the people we were doing activities with regular staterooms all noticed the changes but still had a good time.